If you want to teach your kid about ecology, sustainability, or the future of interactive education, take them to the New York Hall of Science and head for the giant virtual waterfall. The massive digital faucet feeds the ecosystems of Connected Worlds, a cutting-edge installation that aims to teach youngsters about environmental science by immersing them in it. It’s an interactive simulation big enough to walk around inside—virtual reality that’s not piped into a headset but projected onto a real physical space.
Kids can shape the environment through a clever combination of physical and digital interaction. The waterfall sits between two walls, which stretch out into the museum’s cavernous Great Hall like a giant’s arms moving in for a hug. Projected on the walls, and on the floor between them, is a lush virtual world comprising different ecosystems, all dependent on water from the towering falls.
When a kid standing in a particular ecosystem puts her hand to the wall, a Kinect mounted above the space triggers a projector, which makes a digital seed materialize above the youngster’s palm. She can opt to grow a small plant, which doesn’t require much water, or a large tree, which does. To make sure the ecosystem is getting the resources it needs, she must route water from the falls and other sources by arranging giant foam logs on the floor. As kids elsewhere plant their own flora, the water demands of the different areas change dynamically.